“It’s a knife-in-the-heart kind of feeling.”
This is how I describe the pain I experience whenever I see another family loving and caring for each other the way I wish my family would.
I felt it recently while I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a video a friend posted of her family vacation abroad.
Another time, the painful feeling shocked me when I walked by a mother and daughter, having coffee and sharing a jumbo blueberry muffin, at my local coffee shop.
And every time it happens I’m reminded of all that I didn’t have with my family and most likely never will.
Whether it’s your family in general that you mourn or a specific relationship in your life that’s missing, grieving the family you never had is painful but not impossible to do.
Today, I’m sharing 3 tips on how to move through and grieve these broken relationships in those knife-in-the-heart kind of moments.
As always, my main hope is that what you learn here will help ease the pain that comes up for you whenever you’re reminded of the family you never had.
And I also hope, through discussion and sharing, we can start to chip away at the taboo that surrounds this topic.
From my experience, I’ve found that there’s a general reluctance, outside of recovery circles, to acknowledge and talk about families that don’t reflect what we’ve decided is “normal” in society.
For example, not all mothers are loving and kind. Not every family is supportive and forgiving. Not every sibling relationship is a protective, nurturing one. And not everyone has a father to celebrate on father’s day.
Now, I’m not saying that we can’t acknowledge and celebrate those functional families that are healthy and thriving. But I also think that we need to make room within that conversation to understand those of us who haven’t had that experience whether it’s due to family dysfunction that’s tied to abuse, denial, addiction, mental illness or anything.
Of course, you’re the most important piece of this conversation. So after you’re finished reading, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section.
I’ve got two questions for you today, you can answer one or both. The choice is yours.
#1 How do you deal with that knife-in-the-heart feeling that comes up whenever you’re reminded of the family you never had? Is there a specific relationship that haunts you?
#2 Have you also felt the taboo around talking about families that are far from healthy or “normal?” How do you suggest we start chipping away at that taboo? How can we bring the conversation into the mainstream so that people from dysfunctional families can talk openly about their experiences?
Leave your thoughts in the comment section.
Remember, your voice, experiences and insights are vital to this community. And what you have to share is not only unique but it may be exactly what someone else needs to read. And that someone could be you.
As always, thanks for commenting and reading!
Until next Tuesday,
#1 Inhale, Exhale and Repeat
In our last Facebook LIVE show, I shared how I’ve been spending less time on my personal Facebook page.
I’ve found that the more time I spend on Facebook the more irritated I feel. But of course I slip every now and then and that’s what happened recently.
I felt the urge, so I began scrolling through my feed and that’s when I bumped into a video a friend posted of her recent family vacation. And I was instantly triggered. That knife-in-the-heart feeling washed over me. It only took a few hours to pass before the tears started falling. And all I could think about was how lucky she was to have the kind of family that takes vacations together.
From her video, I was reminded of all the disappointment I’ve felt towards my family. I started asking myself questions like, Why does she have that and I don’t? Why is my family so dysfunctional? Why her and not me?
Suddenly my mind was swimming in a thick stew of disappointment, fear, jealously, anger, and pain.
And all I could think to do was BREATHE.
So in that moment, while the tears flowed and my mind raced, I did the best I could to just stay focused on my breathing. I followed my breathe in through my nose and I followed it back out.
The advice I’m sharing here is nothing new, I know. But remembering to pause long enough to focus on something as simple as your breath, in moments of emotional crisis, is much easier said than done. It’s takes practice.
But the bonus to getting in the habit of following your breath, when you hit an emotional rough spot, is that your breath becomes a reliable tool. I mean think about it, as long as you’re alive you’re breathing, right? You don’t have to buy anything extra and it’s not a skill, at least the breathing part, that you need to learn.
You just need to build up the habit and awareness that will allow you to turn to your breath when you get emotionally sucker punched.
By doing so, you can experience that knife-in-the-heart feeling without getting lost in it, which helps keep the grieving process in motion.
#2 Pay Attention To Your Arrows
Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist, once said this about experiencing pain,
If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart.
For the purposes of our discussion we can easily translate Pema’s wise advice,
If a situation comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person, place or thing that inspired the arrow. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart.
The advice here is simple yet valuable. When you’re faced with a situation that triggers grief, instead of focusing on the person place or thing that triggered you, try to stay focused on the fact that you have a wound that needs your attention.
For example, going back to my Facebook video example. Instead of spending my time consumed with jealously and asking questions in the, why her and not me vein, I can let those feelings and reactions bubble up while remaining aware that there’s a deeper issue that needs my attention.
In other words, that Facebook video could of been anyone’s video. If it wasn’t a family vacation video it could of easily been a Mother’s or Father’s day commercial. Don’t let the trigger distract you or zap all of your emotional energy.
Respect your reactions but don’t let them become a distraction.
Remain aware that there’s something deeper that needs your attention.
Which brings me to tip #3.
#3 Holler For Some Help
Again this isn’t new advice but more of a reminder that if you’re struggling with some emotional pain that keeps coming up for you, then it may be time to consider reaching out for help.
Often when we’re living with emotional pain, as time passes and the issues remain unresolved, that tense emotional state can become our new normal.
We forget that we don’t have to live with constant tension. We don’t have to live our daily lives tiptoeing around triggers, depressed and full of anxiety.
Now that doesn’t mean that we strive to live our lives free of emotional pain. That’s not only not a realistic approach but it’s definitely not sustainable.
The idea is to heal and resolve what’s coming up from the past, learn the ins and outs of our emotional worlds and wounds and discover a new way of being.
After my Facebook video situation, I decided that it’s time for me to reach out for some professional help to deal with my issues. For me that meant making an appointment with a therapist. But for you that could look like a support group, a therapeutic book on the topic, meditation or some other method of healing.
Whatever you choose, just remember that you don’t have to live out the rest of your life locked in an emotional prison. The work isn’t easy and it takes a sustained level of commitment and a whole hell of a lot of patience but the rewards far exceed the effort.
So get honest with yourself and consider whether it’s time you asked for some help. There’s no shame or harm in asking and as you begin to reap the benefits of your hard work you’ll be so glad you did.